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Banal activism, electioneering and the politics of irrelevance

This book is an ethnographic study of devolution and politics in Scotland, as well as of party-political activism more generally. It explores how Conservative Party activists who had opposed devolution and the movement for a Scottish Parliament during the 1990s attempted to mobilise politically following their annihilation at the 1997 General Election. The book draws on fieldwork conducted in Dumfries and Galloway – a former stronghold for the Scottish Tories – to describe how senior Conservatives worked from the assumption that they had endured their own ‘crisis’ in representation. The material consequences of this crisis included losses of financial and other resources, legitimacy and local knowledge for the Scottish Conservatives. The book ethnographically describes the processes, practices and relationships that Tory Party activists sought to enact during the 2003 Scottish and local government elections. Its central argument is that, having asserted that the difficulties they faced constituted problems of knowledge, Conservative activists cast to the geographical and institutional margins of Scotland became ‘banal’ activists. Believing themselves to be lacking in the data and information necessary for successful mobilisation during Parliamentary elections, local Tory Party strategists attempted to address their knowledge ‘crisis’ by burying themselves in paperwork and petty bureaucracy. Such practices have often escaped scholarly attention because they appear everyday and mundane, and are therefore less noticeable. Bringing them into view analytically has important implications for socio-cultural anthropologists, sociologists and other scholars interested in ‘new’ ethnographic objects, including activism, bureaucracy, democracy, elections and modern knowledge practices.

The Tories after 1997
Editors: and

The Conservative Party's survival as a significant political force was now open to serious question for the first time since the crisis over the Corn Laws. The Labour Party has commanded a fairly consistent level of attention, whether in office or in opposition. But it seems that the Conservatives are fated to be regarded either as unavoidable or irrelevant. This book presents an analysis that suggests that the party leader plays a less important role in Conservative recoveries than a distinctive policy programme and an effective party organization. It examines the Conservative position on a series of key issues, highlighting the difficult dilemmas which confronted the party after 1997, notably on economic policy. New Labour's acceptance of much of the main thrust of Thatcherite economic policy threw the Conservatives off balance. The pragmatism of this new position and the 'In Europe, not run by Europe' platform masked a significant move towards Euro-skepticism. The book also traces how the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Parties adapted to the creation of the Scottish Parliament, exploring the re-organisation of the Scottish party, its electoral fortunes and political prospects in the new Scottish politics. It examines issues of identity and nationhood in Conservative politics in the 1997-2001 period, focusing on the 'English Question' and the politics of 'race'. The predictable results of the Conservatives' failure to develop an attractive, consistent narrative are then analysed. Right-wing populist parties with charismatic leaders enjoyed some electoral success under the proportional representation systems in 2002.


In 1660 the four nations of the British Isles were governed by one imperial crown but by three parliaments. The abolition of the Scottish and Irish Parliaments in 1707 and 1800 created a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland centred upon the Westminster legislature. This book takes state formation. A number of important points emerge, however, the book deals with three. The first and most obvious point is that the unions were limited in scope and were palpably not incorporating . The second point is that, depending upon the issue, parliament required or encouraged not only different arguments but different voices. The final conclusion to emerge from these essays is that utility of 'national identity' as a way of understanding how people in the period conceived of themselves and their relationship to the state is not as clear and certain as might be first thought. National identity was one amongst a number of geo-political communities people might belong to, albeit a very important one. Inasmuch as the Westminster parliament provided a forum in which debates about how to legislate for three kingdoms took place, in its own way it helped to reinforce awareness of that difference. Liverpool petitions allow us to explore the intersection between policy debate and imperial identity during a pivotal era in the evolution of the British Empire. After 1832, virtual representation, though it survived in many different ways, became associated in the colonial context with nabobs and planters, the very demons of 'old Corruption'.

From disaster to devolution and beyond
Peter Lynch

September 1997, so that Conservative opposition to a Scottish Parliament became an anachronism and devolution was set to become a reality. The party’s prospects took an upward turn when it gained seats in the new Scottish Parliament in the May election of 1999 and from then on, it has faced a radically different political environment to that which existed previously. After 1999, bereft of Westminster representation, the devolved parliament was the only show in town for the Tories north of the Border, with an untested leader, a weakened party organisation, declining levels

in The Conservatives in Crisis
Alan Convery

referendum forced the party to come up with an alternative pro-Union plan for Scotland and this, for the first time, moved the party decisively into a position where it supported further powers for the Scottish Parliament. This chapter then examines the manifestations of party change in the post-devolution Scottish Conservatives. The party’s organisation changed quite substantially after the 2010 election result following an internal report. However, no organisational changes have granted the Scottish Conservatives any further autonomy from the UK party. Similarly, policy

in The territorial Conservative Party
Alexander Smith

opponents. Moreover, I suggest that local Tories were defined, in part, by their exclusion from popular narratives in Scotland that equated political ‘progress’ with the successful campaign for a Scottish Parliament (cf Hearn 2000, 2002), a campaign to which the Thatcher– Major Conservative governments had remained stubbornly opposed. However, most of my non-Tory activists held strong views about the Conservative Party locally and nationally.8 For many people, the Scottish Conservatives constituted the ‘villains’ of Scottish politics, not least because of their historic

in Devolution and the Scottish Conservatives
David Hine
Gillian Peele

the devolution legislation empowered the Secretaries of State for the devolved areas to make standing orders for the legislature but the assumption was that these standing orders would provide only a framework and that the detail of procedures and provisions would be fleshed out later. However, the Scottish Parliament was empowered to set its own Code of Conduct while initially those of the National Assembly for Wales (NAW) and the Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA) were imposed by Westminster. These Codes were then revisited by the Assemblies as they sought to take

in The regulation of standards in British public life
Marina Dekavalla

words, were culturally resonant. Although the 2014 referendum was the first on independence, two referendums on devolution had preceded it, the second of which led to the establishment of the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999 and opened up a new stage in the political development of Scotland. This chapter will discuss all these historical processes and briefly summarise key points in 33 The Scottish constitutional issue 33 Scotland’s relationship with the UK from the establishment of the union until the 2014 referendum, without which the referendum would not

in Framing referendum campaigns in the news
Open Access (free)
Neil McNaughton

it was expected that the people would embrace devolution enthusiastically, there was to be a parliament with extensive legislative powers. The Scots were also to be offered some control over taxation. In Wales, where approval was not ensured, it was decided that legislative power could not be devolved and there was to be much less financial flexibility there. This proved to be a wise device. Nothing less than a Scottish Parliament would do for the nationalists there, but the Welsh might certainly be frightened off if too much power were offered. The second

in Understanding British and European political issues
Abstract only
Alexander Smith

government in 1993.4 This book explores how Conservative activists in Dumfries and Galloway struggled to rebuild politically in the aftermath of that catastrophic electoral failure. Unable to rely on a centralised party organisation for assistance and direction, local Tories had to draw on a much-diminished base of support and scarce resources as they prepared for the 2003 Scottish Parliament and local council elections. Their efforts to rebuild the local Tory political machine, which their opponents once regarded as formidable, took place in a wider context of dramatic

in Devolution and the Scottish Conservatives